Music documentary

5 Takeaways From Ken Burns’ “Country Music” Documentary, Ep. 3

Ken Burns’ Country music The documentary touches on the entire history of country music, but Episode 3 specifically covers a turning point where music took a permanent turn from being acoustically based to electric instrument based. This is perhaps the point that led to modern country music more than any other, led by Hank Williams. The episode takes its title from Williams’ unofficial nickname, “The Hillbilly Shakespeare”.

It was the late 1940s and early 1950s, and America was going through a number of changes in terms of wars, economy, race relations and more. In this context, country music was moving towards a more aggressive sound called honky tonk, as evidenced by Williams’ hit song, “Honky Tonkin'”. The music had a new energy which was exemplified by electric instruments being amplified, and therefore able to cut through some of the noise and clutter of live shows which were becoming increasingly fraught with potential problems.

“The men had gone to war. The women had gone to work. The divorce rate was at record highs,” the documentary claims. “Songs that openly dealt with cheating and drinking—subjects once considered beyond respectability—were as popular as songs with more traditional themes.”

The new sound originated in Texas and Oklahoma before spreading to California, from there reaching the industrial cities of the north. It emphasized electric guitars and electric basses in addition to a more driving beat, cutting out some of the noise from beer halls where fights were becoming more common. But Williams’ approach was more universal, relying on an Everyman persona who connected with everyday people everywhere.

The remaining episodes of Country music airs September 18 and September 22-25. All episodes air at 8 p.m. ET on PBS and are also available on the PBS Video App and PBS.org.

5 takeaways from Ken Burns Country music Documentary, episode 3:

THIS CONTENT IS PROVIDED TO YOU IN PARTNERSHIP WITH COUNTRY MUSIC ON PBS.